Special Use Airspace

By lex, on August 26th, 2010

Seems the Coast Guard and the Navy are trading punches over the results of a mishap investigation into a midair collision that took the lives of 9 servicemen last year:

A Navy report on the crash faulted the Coast Guard and Marine crews for failing to watch out for each other, saying it was their responsibility to avoid each other while flying even though a Navy controller was aware of their presence.

Under “see-and-avoid” rules that govern airspace off the Southern California coast, pilots are on their own to watch for others in the area. The collision occurred about 50 miles off the coast.

“Both aircraft were operating under visual flight rules and were ultimately responsible for their own safety, navigation and separation from other aircraft,” the Navy report said…

The Coast Guard report, also released Tuesday, blamed Navy controllers for failing to recognize a formation of four Marine helicopters make a climbing right turn, one of which collided with the Coast Guard plane. It said it was in radio contact with Navy controllers for 2 1/2 hours before the crash, which may have led the Coast Guard crew to believe that it would be warned of any aircraft in the area.

Well, they may have allowed themselves to believe that, but being “led to believe” is putting it a little strongly. Military Operating Areas are “see and avoid,” which is admittedly a difficult task at night. An MOA controller’s role is chiefly procedural deconfliction rather than active traffic monitoring. Navy isn’t staffed to provide separation services for aircraft operating in MOAs, period, stop. Even if they were, the last thing you’d want while operating in tactical airspace is some controller looking over your shoulder giving you traffic warnings in the middle of a four v. four furball.

The Coast Guard goes on to fault the Marine helo crew for not using their transponder or anti-collision beacon, but as a wingman in a four-ship flight, transponder use is inappropriate, and the red lights of the anti-smash create a problem for aircrew equipped with NVDs.

Sometimes bad things just happen. That doesn’t provide much succor to the families who lost their loved ones, but it can be a dangerous business even under routine conditions. This isn’t the first time something like this happened.

Sadly, it probably won’t be the last time either.

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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Flying, In Memoriam

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